Portage County Clerk of Courts Patricia Baker has resigned to return to private practice.
Baker, who has held the position for about five years, announced her resignation in a letter to Branch 3 Circuit Court Judge Thomas Flugaur dated Jan. 27. She resigns effective March 10.
“I’ve had a really wonderful opportunity to go in with a friend of mine and join her firm, and it’s just time,” Baker said in an interview.
“Every week I have people come in here with problems and situations and issues that they need legal help on, and I’ve not been able to help people with any legal situations because I’m working for the courts,” she said. “I really miss that one-on-one advocacy, and that I’m really looking forward to.”
The Portage County clerk of courts supervises 12 employees and manages an annual budget of about $1.5 million, according to county information. The position also is responsible for functions including court records management; court case management and event tracking; collection of fines, fees, costs and forfeitures; case-related financial management; jury management; support of courtroom operations; and planning and coordinating in a variety of areas.
“Trish and I have a good working relationship, and she had (previously) confided in me that she … missed the practice of law,” Flugaur said, so her resignation was not entirely a surprise. “Having said that, she will be missed by myself and the other judges.
“She’s the first clerk who was an attorney so she knows the lingo very well so she was extremely helpful and accommodating to myself and the other judges when we needed different projects or tasks done,” he said. “She has done a wonderful job.”
When Baker was appointed to the position in 2011, the county had just started the process of transitioning from the countywide information technology system to join CCAP, the statewide Circuit Court Access system for public records. Flugaur said her proficiency in information technology, administrative and managerial skills and attention to detail were instrumental in completing that changeover smoothly.
Flugaur said her knowledge of the clerk of courts office and how it interrelates with the attorneys, judges and the public also has been beneficial.
Other highlights during Baker’s service include improved collections mechanisms for the county, revamping the law library for greater public access, improved restitution collections for victims, a successful department-wide audit, rewriting of local court rules for guardian ad litem procedures, creation of policy and procedures manual, improved financial security for the office, and the office played a role in establishing a municipal court.
The most recent achievement, she said, is the office conversion to electronic files and filing, which took place Wednesday, Feb. 15.
An appointment to fill out Baker’s term, which expires Dec. 31, 2018, could be made in the next couple of weeks, Flugaur said. Application deadline for the post was Wednesday, Feb. 15. As of early this week, nearly 20 applications had been filed.
“We’re going to look at everyone who has been cleared as qualified for the positon,” Flugaur said. “I’m hoping for interviews as early as the end of next week.”
If someone has not been found by her resignation date, Baker said she is willing to continue in the position for a week or two longer.
“I just didn’t want them to have to appoint an interim clerk, I didn’t want to put the staff through that,” she said. “I think the office runs very well right now, and I wanted someone to be able to walk in and see it running really well and then be able to make their own improvements.
“There’s really good people in this office, it’s a wonderful staff, and they’ll do great with whoever comes in,” Baker said.
Though there has been some discord among county staff recently that has led to resignations in different departments, Baker said that atmosphere is quite the opposite of what her experiences have been.
“This has been a great, great experience, I’ve really enjoyed being in county government,” she said. “It’s a wonderful staff and wonderful group of people, a great opportunity – I can’t say enough good stuff.”
Along with focusing on practicing law, stepping down will allow Baker to spend more time with other interests: She serves on the Stevens Point Area Public School District Board and chairs its Educational Services Committee and also serves on the Park Ridge Village Board and will be seeking its president post in the spring election.
“While it was interesting and challenging, I’m happy I’m able to hand off the office and say it’s working pretty well,” Baker said. “I’ve never been a person to shy away from change and this will be a big change. I’m really excited, but I’m going to miss the people here a lot.”